Recycling electronics & restoring lives
Ever wonder what happens to old cellphones, laptops, and computers after people toss them? In Germantown, a remarkable company turns discarded electronics into opportunities for people to start their lives again. PAR Recycle Works (People Advancing Reintegration), an electronics recycler on Walnut Lane, makes waste into revenue while providing transitional employment and valuable skills to people returning from prison.
This non-profit company also provides an earth-friendly service by diverting over 250 tons of electronic waste (or “e-waste”) from area landfills every year. E-waste contains materials that can be upcycled or reused if recycled properly, such as the copper in wires or the gold in computer motherboards.
According to co-founder Maurice Q. Jones, electronic waste can be quite valuable. “There is more gold in one ton of motherboards being recycled than there is in 800 tons of gold ore extracted from the Earth.”
Harvesting valuable metals is only part of PAR’s value, they also destroy sensitive data in items like hard drives and cellphones. This unusual business model enables the company to pay employees and provides them with skills to re-enter the workforce.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports over 68% of formerly incarcerated individuals will be re-incarcerated within three years of their release. For people who have worked at PAR, the reincarceration rate is just 5%. Putting individuals on a path to employment and self-sufficiency provides purpose and significantly decreases the chance to re-offend, which strengthens families and improves the community.
PAR also keeps their efforts local by partnering with institutions like universities (University of Pennsylvania, Villanova University, Chestnut Hill College, among others), schools (Penn Charter and Germantown Friends School), churches, and Weavers Way Co-op. These organizations donate their e-waste (computers, printers, batteries, TVs, and cellphones) and often host events for neighborhood drop-offs.
Besides teaching employees the hard skills of deconstructing recyclables, PAR also provides courses in digital literacy, financial literacy, and mindfulness to help them manage their income and improve their communication skills. “Helping people build a sense of accountability and showing up on time is important,” notes Jones. “Every Tuesday and Wednesday, we have discussions focusing on topics like these.”
Life After PAR
Where do employees go after PAR? For Jones, PAR is the first step in job re-entry, not the final destination. “Most employees usually spend 4-7 months here before being transferred to other full-time jobs. We want employees to be comfortable here, but we don’t want them to stay forever,” he said. The goal, he said, is for employees to learn new skill sets “that can help them restart their lives again.”
Brandon, a former employee at PAR who now is employed as a driver, describes PAR as “a place that restores lives and helps the Earth.” And PAR is doing just that, with each piece of e-waste it recycles.
Got e-Waste? Drop off your end-of-life electronic recyclables to PAR’s Germantown location at 342 E. Walnut Lane (map). Open Mon – Fri 8:30am – 5pm (267-335-5455) or schedule a pickup online. Every item will be disposed of in a safe and environmentally-conscious way, in keeping with state and city regulations.